Thursday, October 27, 2011

Living Without Regrets

I've begun reading Peter's epistles...both of them in the last couple of days.  What I love about Peter's letters is how straightforward and cutting to the core he is about being a Christian.

One of the things he focuses on is the need to live "in Christ".  Not religiously, not piously, using language to act one way or the other; but living in the "real" faith of following hard after Jesus.  In that sense, he is talking about a walk in Christ that is lived without regrets.

For example he gets to the core of growth in it's practical ways:
2 Peter 1:3, 5-8 NLT

"By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.
The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."

What more can be added?  God has supplied all that we need.  I hear people talk about the faith that they lack...I've probably done it myself.  Peter says faith is "supplemented" with these character and integrity areas:  purity, knowledge, self-contol, patience in enduring, godliness, brotherly kindness and love!  It's Peter saying "it's not that complicated, keep working on these things."

Peter goes on to warn of those who jettison this approach for a false freedom.  He mixes no words in speaking truth: 
2 Peter 2:19-21 NLT

"They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves of sin and corruption. For you are a slave to whatever controls you. And when people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then get tangled up and enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before. It would be better if they had never known the way to righteousness than to know it and then reject the command they were given to live a holy life."

It is convicting..."slaves to whatever controls us..."  True.  The alcoholic knows it.  It is a dire warning.  We don't have a freedom in Christ to do whatever we want to do, we have a freedom in Christ to do what will lead us further and further to Christ.

Peter knows how practical it all is.  He is not a hard-nosed legalist.  He understands that at some point the world is going to be changed and Christ Jesus will rule upon the earth...the Kingdom we pray for will come.  He's making it clear that God is extending his grace so that all who will can come.

2 Peter 3:9 NLT

"The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent."

2 Peter 3:13-14, 18 NLT

"But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.
And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight. must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen."

No regrets...and where there are regrets, a genuine desire for restoration and a new beginning.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Persevering Faith -

My readings these days have taken me through the book of Hebrews.  Arguably one of the most theological of all the New Testament letters - along with Romans - Hebrews takes us through the heart of God in fulfilling, through Jesus, the Old Testament Covenant.  The Priesthood, sacrifices, offerings, holy days, all find their fulfillment in Christ Jesus.  When all is said and done, He is the "author and perfector of our faith".  And that is the purpose - to have complete trust or faith in Him for our lives.

Faith is that element of our living in Christ that becomes practical every day.

In chapter 11 the writer describes this to us:

Hebrews 11:1, 6, 13, 34, 38-40 NLT

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.
All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.

Faith causes us to hang in there, persevering in "seeking" him for everything.

Faith is trusting EVEN WHEN we don't see the end result.

Faith is recognizing that our weakness is the opportunity for God's strength to be on display.

Faith is knowing that we don't live for ourselves, nor die for ourselves, but that those who follow us will gain the benefit of moving on towards faith in Christ because we had faith.

Faith is everyday, in everyway, a challenge to embrace.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Important to Remember

I'm continuing my readings in the book of Acts.  I read the passages that detail Paul's second missionary journey.  Beginning in chapter 16, where we discover Luke joining the team, he records their journey to  the European mainland...Greece.  A vision by God of a Macedonian man asking them to come over and help them, leads to their leaving the Asia province (Turkey) and go over to Philippi.  Here the first convert is a Jewish business lady and her household.  What we learn is that the Gospel is received, and opposed.  Paul is "forced" by opposition to keep heading south...perhaps it is also his design...towards the population centers of Athens and Corinth.  He arrives at the Philosophical center of Greece at Athens.  What impresses me is the simpicity of his comments.

Acts 17:24-25, 27-28, 30, 31 NLT

“He is the God who made the world and everything in it.
Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs.
He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need.
His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us.
For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him.  For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”

There is a simplicity to the Gospel that transcends Philosophy and all human reasoning.  God is everything and everywhere.  He needs no defense, no temple to worship, and yet his purpose is to reach out to all mankind...because of his care for all made in his image.  Yet in Him we need an honesty that keeps us from rationalizing our distance from him.  Our sin has separated us from him, but He has made a way through His Son - Jesus' life, death and resurrection has made it possible for us to seek him and find Him.  Make no mistake, there is a day in the future when all that seeking will come to an end. 
It's not all that profound...except what God has done.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Getting it Right

I'm continuing my yearly readings, and today read several of the early chapters of the book of Acts. 
The early chapters of Acts are much more than history, they represent the simpicity of the Gospel, along with the profound wisdom of God at work in a people simply doing things with faith in him.
The testimony of the early church revolves around their faith in Jesus working among them.  Peter is the principal character in the stories, but he makes it clear, it's always about Jesus and what he is doing, not about him, or the miracles.  In the early chapters these believers act in faith of Christ's presence, and they are called to account by religious authorities...but there they make it clear:

Acts 4:8-10, 12, 30, 32-33 NLT
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of our people, are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed? Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.

Their complete surrender to God's authority and faith gives them boldness in terms of both declaring Jesus' name and in praying for the work of God to be fulfilled in them.  Peter prays...

"Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus."

The affect upon them as a fellowship were profound...they became even more simple in terms of their lifestyle.

"All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all."

We muse about the early church, and wished we experienced the grace of God in those ways, but (perhaps) stop short of realizing the sacrifice and commitment that went with that grace.  Reading on in those early chapters and we run across the story of Annanias and Sapphira - a story of discipline we would prefer to ignore! 
And then shortly after, we see the first of the many martyrdoms that would occur in the early church with the story of Stephen.
One of the things that struck me is Stephen's sermon to the Jewish leaders in Acts 7.  We know that Stephen was martyred for his testimony before this group...the first of many martyrs in the early church who testified about Jesus as the Messiah.  The chapter is interesting because it tells the Old Testament story so succinctly and thoroughly.  For anyone who has ever tried to understand the story of Scripture from beginning to end, this would be a great chapter to review.

Then we get to the main character of Acts (outside of the work of the Holy Spirit) - Paul.  We meet him in the narrative as a zealous Jew seeking to destroy the Christians...  Acts 8:1, 3 NLT

"Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen.

A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison."

Saul, soon to become brother Paul, is arrested himself by the Spirit of Christ while traveling to Damascus.  He who was a zealous opponent becomes a zealous evangelist for Jesus.

Acts 9:17-20 NLT
So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength.

Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!”

My readings ended with Peter's encounter with the Lord on the rooftop, his subsequent journey to Cornelius' household, and the conversion of the first Gentiles...something of which we are all heirs of.

This story of the early church makes me want to pray more for the simplicity of the power of Christ at work in my own fellowship.  I long for the authority of Christ to be real...his power, salvation, healings...but along with that comes the reality of opposition, and even those that would kill to oppose this reality. 
I called this post, "Getting it Right", because there's something in the experience of the early chapters of Acts that draw me back to church when it did it right.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Fall Jewish Feasts

Judaism celebrates seven annual festivals...occasions where work ceases  and a celebration begins. 
Four of those feasts occur in the Spring of the year in which Passover begins it and Pentecost ends it.  There are three Fall festivals:  Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkoth.  The Jewish Fall Feasts are happening right now.  Rosh Hashanah began in late September, Yom Kippur begins this Friday, and Sukkoth follows just five days later.  What's the big deal about the observance of festivals, seemingly unrelated to Christianity? 

The Fall Feasts of Judaism are important links to our faith in Christ Jesus.  All of the feasts were celebrated by Jesus, the disciples, and the early church.  As the book of Hebrews states, they serve as a "shadow of things to come", ie. they all made a statement about the coming of the Messiah, and in their form, they express the heart of God in worship, and express his "ways" in our hearts.

Rosh Hashanah (Ha-Sha-Nah) begins the Fall holy days.  Numbers 29:1 NLT

“Celebrate the Festival of Trumpets each year on the first day of the appointed month in early autumn. You must call an official day for holy assembly, and you may do no ordinary work."

Called the Festival of Trumpets, it is the first official day of the civil year - sort of a Jan. 1st date for Jews.  In ancient Israel the trumpet - a shofar - is blown to mark it's beginning.  Rosh Hashanah begins the year with a period of personal reflection.  For 10 days faithful Jews take stock of their lives before God and others.  The great commandment to "Love the Lord your God with all Your Heart..." and "Love your neighbor as yourself" become the basis for this time of looking back and asking God to both forgive and allow for restoration in all relationships...starting with the relationship with him.  Those ten days are called "The days of Awe" and set out the nature of the believer's relationship with God for the rest of the year - to be in fellowship with him and to do what we can to repent of all sin whenever and wherever possible.  After those ten days comes "Yom Kippur"

Numbers 29: 7 NLT
“Ten days later, on the tenth day of the same month, you must call another holy assembly. On that day, the Day of Atonement, the people must go without food and must do no ordinary work."

Yom Kippur is considered the holiest day of the year.  The "Yom" is "day", and "Kippur" is "cutting, or sacrifice".  It is the Day that marks the end of the Days of Awe with the sacrifice of blood that brings about Atonement for our sins.  It happens like this:  Leviticus 16:5-10 NLT

Aaron must take from the community of Israel two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.
“Aaron will present his own bull as a sin offering to purify himself and his family, making them right with the LORD. Then he must take the two male goats and present them to the LORD at the entrance of the Tabernacle. He is to cast sacred lots to determine which goat will be reserved as an offering to the LORD and which will carry the sins of the people to the wilderness of Azazel. Aaron will then present as a sin offering the goat chosen by lot for the LORD. The other goat, the scapegoat chosen by lot to be sent away, will be kept alive, standing before the LORD. When it is sent away to Azazel in the wilderness, the people will be purified and made right with the LORD.

Two is sacrificed, its blood is shed for the sins of the nation.  One goat is taken alive out into the wilderness and released...the sins are taken away, removed and forgotten.  This year Yom Kippur will occur this Friday evening thru Saturday. 

What again does this have to do with our faith in Christ?  The book of Hebrews makes the point... Hebrews 9:11-14 NLT

So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.
Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins.

Christ Jesus came as "the lamb of God" that permanently atones for our sins, and takes them away. 
The way that this affects us is profound.  Again, Hebrews 10:16-25 NLT

This is the new covenant I will make
with my people on that day, says the LORD:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.” Then he says,
“I will never again remember
their sins and lawless deeds.” And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices.
And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.
Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

The way for us is not through ritual sacrifices, nor religious performances...our way to God is made open to us in Christ Jesus...he is our Yom Kippur.